Ellen G. White became a leader of a segment of the Millerites (who called themselves Adventists) in May of 1863. Her many visions and writings influenced the formation of Seventh-Day Adventism and greatly shaped its doctrine. Today, most Seventh-Day Adventists still consider Ellen White to be a prophetess of God.
Ellen G. White was formerly a Methodist but later converted to Adventism through the preaching of William Miller, a false prophet who had predicted Christ would return in 1843 or 1844. When Miller’s prediction of Christ’s second advent failed to come true, the Millerites disbanded in dismay; however, a couple of Miller’s followers claimed to have visions to account for the failed prophecy. One of these seers was 17-year-old Ellen G. Harmon, who had the first of her 2,000 purported visions in a prayer meeting shortly after Miller’s disgrace. In her vision, Ellen claimed to have seen the Adventists on a journey to the city of God. Ellen G. Harmon soon became the beacon of hope for disappointed Millerites, the unifier of Adventist factions, and the spiritual guide for a new religious group.
In 1846, Ellen married James White, an Adventist preacher. Together, they began to study the teachings of Joseph Bates, who promoted Sabbath-keeping for all Christians. Convinced that Bates was correct, James and Ellen White began observing the Saturday Sabbath. Soon thereafter, in 1847, Ellen G. White had another vision, this one confirming her new belief: she claimed to have been shown the law of God in a heavenly sanctuary, and the fourth commandment (concerning the Sabbath) was surrounded by a halo of light. The Whites began to uphold Sabbath-keeping as a primary doctrine.
Ellen G. White was a prolific writer. Her first book, A Sketch of the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White, appeared in 1851. She would go on to write about 60 books total. The Whites travelled extensively, and Ellen wrote constantly to tell people what God was supposedly telling her. In 1855, James and Ellen G. White settled in Battle Creek, Michigan. In the next 55 years, Ellen G. White wrote nearly 10,000 pages of prophetic material, much of it published in the nine-volume Testimonies for the Church.
During a funeral service in Ohio in 1858, Ellen G. White had yet another vision, which she later detailed in her 219-page book Spiritual Gifts, Volume 1: The Great Controversy Between Christ and His Angels and Satan and His Angels. In this vision, Mrs. White saw a cosmic war being waged throughout the ages between Jesus and His angelic army and Satan and his. The Great Controversy, said Mrs. White, will be won as Christians help Jesus.
In May 1863, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists was officially incorporated. Ellen G. White never considered herself the head of the new group, but her visions were definitely instrumental in its founding and early guidance. The Seventh-Day Adventists considered Mrs. White to be a true prophetess of God. Modern Adventists still lift her up as having the gift of prophecy. Seventh-Day Adventists interpret “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” in Revelation 19:10 as a reference to Ellen G. White’s writings. The following statement was approved by the General Conference session in the Netherlands in June 1995: “We consider the biblical canon closed. However, we also believe, as did Ellen G. White’s contemporaries, that her writings carry divine authority, both for godly living and for doctrine. Therefore, we recommend . . . that as a church we seek the power of the Holy Spirit to apply to our lives more fully the inspired counsel contained in the writings of Ellen G. White” (cited in http://www.apologeticsindex.org/3100-seventh-day-adventism#return-note-3100-17, accessed June 2, 2016).
Ellen G. White continued to have visions that she attributed to divine inspiration. Some of these visions dealt with the need for healthy eating habits, which Mrs. White called “the gospel of health” (Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 6, p. 327). Her health requirements included placing restrictions on consuming meat, or “flesh food,” as Adventists call it. “Flesh food is injurious to health, and whatever affects the body has a corresponding effect on the mind and the soul” (The Ministry of Healing, Chapter 24: “Flesh as Food,” p. 316). It is not surprising that, having required Sabbath-keeping, Adventist theology began to allow other elements of Law-keeping to creep in as well. Interestingly, corn flakes were the creation of John Harvey Kellogg, a Seventh-Day Adventist doctor in Battle Creek who sought to provide a “healthy” vegetarian alternative to meat-laden breakfasts. In other visions, Mrs. White received the unorthodox doctrines of soul sleep and annihilationism.
After her husband’s death in 1881, Ellen G. White pledged to continue to promote Adventism and Sabbatarianism. She traveled to Europe and Australia, encouraging Seventh-Day Adventists, organizing schools, and establishing medical works. She continued to speak at Adventist meetings and to write down her prophecies until her death in 1915.
Ellen G. White was a false prophetess. Her promotion of Sabbath-keeping as a primary doctrine in the church goes against the clear teaching of the New Testament on the matter (Romans 14:5). Her “revelation” that hell is not eternal contradicts Jesus’ words concerning “eternal punishment” in Matthew 25:46. Her teaching that the sins of believers will be placed on Satan, the “scapegoat” (The Great Controversy, p. 422, 485), is the opposite of what the Bible says about who bore our sins (see 1 Peter 2:24). Her identification of Jesus as Michael the archangel (Jude 1:9, Clear Word Bible, published by Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1994) is a denial of the true nature of Christ. Her repudiation of the verbal inspiration of the Bible (Selected Messages, Book 1, p. 21 Manuscript 24, 1886) is at variance with passages such as 2 Timothy 3:16 and Psalm 12:6.
More basically, followers of Ellen G. White face a very real question concerning the sufficiency of Scripture. Is the Bible sufficient for our faith and practice, or do we need further revelation in the form of 2,000 visions from a self-proclaimed prophetess? Seventh-Day Adventists’ official stance is that “the Holy Scriptures are the supreme, authoritative, and the infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the test of experience, the definitive revealer of doctrines, and the trustworthy record of God’s acts in history” (https://www.adventist.org/en/beliefs/god/holy-scriptures/, accessed June 2, 2016). Yet, at the same time, most Seventh-Day Adventists accept the works of Ellen G. White as authoritative and binding. From the same official website: “Her writings speak with prophetic authority and provide comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction to the church” (https://www.adventist.org/en/beliefs/church/the-gift-of-prophecy/, accessed June 2, 2016). What is “prophetic authority” if not the right to mandate belief based on divine words given through a human? How do the utterances of Ellen G. White differ from the Bible’s declarations of truth?
Seventh-Day Adventism is a diverse movement, and not all SDA groups hold to all the teachings of Ellen G. White. But two facts should give Seventh-Day Adventists pause: Mrs. White, a teacher of aberrant doctrine, is a co-founder of their church; and their church has its roots in the failed prophecies of William Miller.